As a part of the Albion College art department’s 2020 Artist-in-Residence Program, Christine Carr was invited to spend a few months with a gallery and studio space in Bobbitt Auditorium. While this time was abruptly brought to a halt due to COVID-19 concerns, Carr was still able to create some lasting memories and gain new inspiration from Albion.
In the spirit of her environmental career focus, Carr became a perfect candidate to contribute to the Earth Day 50 festivities that were set to occur at Albion. However, not many people had the chance to walk through her Bobbit gallery space before the COVID-19 shut down. In light of the Earth Day 50 events going virtual, Carr’s environmental artwork deserves a spotlight as well.
About the Artist
Growing up in Virginia, Carr decided to attend Virginia Tech on an engineering career path. After some distractions and taking time off, however, she ended up finding a new passion in the art field.
“In a nutshell, my first attempt at college was a miserable, horrible failure. I wasn’t applying myself, and it wasn’t working. So, I dropped out,” said Carr. “But I’ve always liked to roam and explore the world and nature. I like to look at the outskirts, and so I was taking a picture one day and thought of photography.”
After looking into photography classes at nearby institutions, Carr ended up enrolling at Tidewater Community College and eventually receiving her AAS from the college’s Visual Arts Center. Following that, she received her BFA from the Corcoran College of Art and Design and her MFA from the Tyler School of Art.
“I was deciding between graphic design and photography, and then I had to narrow it down to commercial or fine art photography,” said Carr. “I love fine art photography because you get to express yourself and anything goes.”
Carr filled her time with art and humanities courses and consequently didn’t have much room for any science courses. This can often be a problem with colleges and universities that don’t follow a liberal arts education.
Carr explained that a student of hers had brought up the Tragedy of the Commons, which ended up being a perfect fit to her artistic view and a contributing title to her air pollution project. Since she was not required to have a science course, she was unaware of the paper, as are so many other students in the arts and humanities.
“Other than art classes, all I took were classes in the humanities,” said Carr. “I am missing out on a lot, which I am realizing now since I didn’t take science classes.”
This minor setback in a lack of scientific education didn’t stop Carr. While growing up along the East Coast had Carr in a daily existence of buildings and traffic, moving to Virginia had immersed her into rural places like the Appalachian trail.
“I got a job in Virginia, and that is when I started getting even more interested in nature,” said Carr. “I could see it, smell it, feel it. I was hiking and learning. I think it was a combination of things that led me to be more concerned about the environment, including the general recession and climate change in 2008.”
As a result, Carr started doing projects with environmental themes. These projects revolved around her concerns, the types of things happening and how they upset her.
“My projects have transitioned from my concerns to the point that I am communicating the need to start thinking about policy and specific issues of science,” said Carr.
While a few of Carr’s individual projects have focused on cigarettes, birds, buildings and smoke, she has wrapped them into one to create “In the Air,” a display of air pollution photos.
Explaining the Art
Carr’s exhibit, “In the Air,” consisted of three major parts, including “Tragedy of the Commons,” “Smoke Studies” and “Residue and Repercussions.”
“This project is about air pollution specifically,” said Carr. “The intro to the show is the basic pillars of air pollution: industry, agriculture, fire and transportation.”
Overall, these four pillars are the main sources of air pollution and some of the main sources of water use. Throughout the exhibit walk, Carr explained photo after photo with more sensory detail than could be captured in a single frame.
As seen in most of the photos thus far, not many humans are included, but that doesn’t take away from the important fact that these actions of air pollution are a result of humans.
“I minimize humans, but this project is definitely by default about humans,” said Carr.
Carr’s photography for this project focused on the idea of taking something that is illusive and making it permamble or visible.
“I was just thinking about the phenomenon of it, things created by humans or by nature,” said Carr. “Like, how I could capture the movement and small size of air particles, these things that fly and float but you can’t see them individually, and yet they are still impacting things.”
Since Carr has been focusing on air pollution, that often means that she is looking up to catch some scenes. This results in some photos of birds as well as looking down to collect some dust accumulation photos. Leading on with the theme of air pollution, Carr presented a section titled “Residue and Repercussions.”
This final section of Carr’s exhibit included several photos ranging from roadside dust to dryer lint, all of which impact their surrounding environment.
While Carr’s exhibit was focused on air pollution, she also has a deep interest in climate change. However, with the current status of the world, she finds herself wanting to do so many various projects. She feels the pull to chase after the environmental and human effects of viruses and epidemics. She hopes to use her photography as a communication device to better the world.
“In art, you want to have things where people are complaining, taking their time and thinking, but some things you do need a quick impact,” said Carr. “I thought about how I would use those tactics. I want people to look and take their time but also I want the things that will go, ‘Bam.’”
Using her photography, Carr tries to take her ideas a step further and use them as evidence of how effective policy can be. To tie into Earth Day 50, Carr also mentioned the beginning of the EPA and the Documerica Project.
“The Documerica Project shows a lot of the people and the pollution from the 70’s,” said Carr.
The project is a large collection of photos from participating individuals who wanted to showcase their surrounding environments. Photos range from agriculture to city traffic and backyards in a hope to document the world’s environment and how it was being affected at the time the project was completed.
“The idea of some of my projects is to talk about how successful policies have been. I am tying in the idea of how policy is effective and how the image is effective,” said Carr.
Contributing to the Environment
In the name of Earth Day and it’s 50th anniversary, Albion College’s Center for Sustainability and the Environment (CSE) was going to put on several events. While they only had time for a few, there were also many other activities going on that could be related to the environmental movement, Carr’s exhibit being a specific example.
“I turned to the idea of using the land and features as a device to deliver messages,” said Carr.
The campus is now closed, and students, faculty and staff were sent home. Given that, the art exhibit remains unseen to most, but the world keeps turning and the air we all breathe is still moving. We can’t physically group together to care for the Earth during this time, but people like Carr have shown us that there is still a way to send a message.
For those who were interested in attending the Earth Day events this spring, CSE was encouraging the use of “#earthday” and “#myalbion” on social media. Events were cancelled, but Earth Day is still April 22, and everyone can still participate by sharing photos. So, for those still interested in taking a stand for our environment, share a photo (or two, or three) to be a part of the Albion Earth Day 50 Project.